UK scientists discover brain’s weakest link for Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia
Researchers at Oxford University have found a specific network of human brain regions that are more vulnerable to unhealthy ageing and are at the root of disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia in elderly and young people. The scientists believe they have pinpointed the areas that are the weak spots linked to both the illnesses.
The international team, led by Medical Research Council (MRC) funded researcher Dr Gwenaëlle Douaud, at the Oxford University Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain (FMRIB), also found that in healthy people these parts of the brain are the last to develop and the first to show signs of degeneration.
The study is published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The team studied MRI brain scans of 484 healthy volunteers aged between eight and 85 years and looked at how the brain naturally changes as people age. The scan images revealed a common pattern: the parts of the brain which were last to develop were first to show signs of age-related decline.
Comparing the scans of patients with Alzheimer’s disease with those suffering from schizophrenia, it was found that the same brain regions were affected.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Douaud said: “Our results show that the same specific parts of the brain not only develop more slowly, but also degenerate faster than other parts. These complex regions seem to be more vulnerable than the rest of the brain to both schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s, even though these two diseases have different origins and appear at very different, almost opposite, times of life.”
University College London scientist Dr Michael Bloomfield said: “Schizophrenia can be potentially devastating, but at the moment it’s very difficult to predict with certainty who is going to have a good prognosis and who might have a poor one. This study brings us a step closer to being able to make this prediction, so patients could in the future receive better targeted treatments.”
The NHS estimates that 800,000 people in the UK at present suffer from dementia, and one in 100 experience a schizophrenic episode during their lifetime.